WAM Theatre to host panel of performers


GREAT BARRINGTON -- What happens when Karen Allen from "Indiana Jones" sits down to talk shop with Lauren Ambrose from "Six Feet Under," Michel Gill from "House of Cards," Marin Mazzie, nominated for a Tony for her role as Clara in "Passion," Linus Roache from "Law & Order" and Debra Jo Rupp from "That ‘70s Show"?

On Sunday, the Berkshires will find out.

Jayne Atkinson, Tony nominee and co-producer of Claiming Her Place, will host "Claiming Her Place: A celebrity panel discusses the challenges women face in the entertainment industry," a benefit for the Women's Action Movement (WAM) Theatre at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center.

Entertainers will share their personal stories regarding challenges they have experienced throughout their careers.

Atkinson said she looks forward to the chance "to support a theater committed to helping, not only to promote women's voices through art but also to support women and girls from around the world longing to find their voices."

"I keep real in who I am." she said by email . "I also have made choices not to do things that I feel perpetuate certain stereotypes of women. When I played Karen Hayes on 24 it was very important that I combine a sense of power and intuitive softness in my portrayal. Otherwise I'd just be trying to be a man. Why do that?"

Many of the issues in Sunday's panel reach far beyond the entertainment industry, and into recent debates in the media and legislation.

"The whole issue of equal pay for above and beyond work has been on the agenda for years," Atkinson said.

Panelists will also share how they have dealt with some of these issues throughout their careers. Atkinson revealed that she once pretended to have a motorcycle to break free of the "mother" image and instead get cast as a "hot biker babe."

The panel intends to be "funny, moving and an inspiration," said Kristen van Ginhoven, artistic director and co-founder of WAM Theatre.

Panelists will share stories of fighting ageism, balancing an ambitious career with time as a wife and mother, and coping with the male-dominated world of directing and writing.

"Even if you think about [the Berkshires] and you look at the amount of plays produced by women playwrights, on both a local and national scale, there is still such an imbalance," van Ginhoven explained.

Even the great strides of the last century, she said, "we still have such a long way to go. The third wave of feminism is alive and well."

In 2009, Kristen van Ginhoven read a book that changed her life forever. "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide," by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, frames women's struggles against the back drop of empowering true stories. Van Ginhoven explains that the book focuses on storytelling and taking action, and it moved her take action.

"I knew when I put down the book," van Ginhoven said, "that I wanted to find a way to use what I do to benefit women and girls."

Van Ginhoven works in entertainment, and through performance WAM Theatre tackles large community issues.

While WAM Theatre creates jobs for actresses and women playwrights, the company also donates 25 percent of box office proceeds to organizations that benefit women and girls.

In keeping with WAM Theatre's double philanthropic model, van Ginhoven and her co-founder partner Leigh Strimbeck also plan to announce the beneficiary for this year's fall performance.

Over the last three years, WAM Theater has donated over $7,000 to organizations like Teen Pregnancy Prevention, The Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts and the Edna Adan University Hospital in Somaliland, which is a midwife training facility featured in "Half the Sky."

On Sunday, WAM Theater will preview its fall performance of "Emilie: La Marquise Du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight." After the panel, Atkinson and her husband, Michel Gill, will give a staged reading of the opening of the play -- a love scene.

"The benefit comes out of wanting to have a fun and lively evening with lots of laughter and good stories, but also a stimulating conversation."

If you go ...

What: 'Claiming Her Place: The challenges women face in the entertainment industry' panel hosted by Jayne Atkinson

When: Monday at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, 14 Castle St., Great Barrington

Admission: $35-$50 to benefit WAM Theatre programs

Information: www.mahaiwe.org (413) 528-0100


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